Former NASCAR driver talks history, the accident, fans and faith in this exclusive interview with Motorsport.com.
Newer and younger NASCAR fans might not remember Geoff Bodine.
From his Guinness Book of World Records accomplishment to helping his country achieve Olympic success as well as his early role in elevating Hendrick Motorsports’ status, Bodine can take pride while reflecting on his four decades-plus driving career.
Motorsport.com caught up with Bodine recently from his home in Melbourne, Florida for this week’s edition of ‘Where are they now?’
Bodine grew up the second eldest of four children in rural Chemung, New York. His grandfather and father built Chemung Speedrome. That’s where the Bodine racing legacy began. His career started behind the wheel of micro sprints at the age of five.
“My family was just farming people and I was fortunate that my dad and grandfather decided to build a race track,” he said. “I was real young, but I remember the first time I raced and I looked back to see where the next car was when I was just five year old. I lost that race and learned then to never look back at a car again and I didn’t and I won the next race I ran.”
The elder Bodine and his brothers Brett and Todd, along with older sister Denise, all helped out at the race track at one point in their lives.
Moving on to modifieds
At a young age, Bodine’s talent earned him a ride in what is now known as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
By 1972, he was winning some of the most prestigious events in the sport. Bodine took the checkered flag in events such as the Race of Champions in Trenton. He continued his success throughout the decade.
Bodine went on to win prestigious modified races at iconic venues such as Stafford Motor Speedway, Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, Oswego Speedway and Pocono Raceway.
In 1978, Bodine entered 84 modified races. He won a remarkable 55 events to set a record for most NASCAR wins in a season — a statistic that still stands today in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“We had a great year that year and won a lot of races,” Bodine said. “That success opened some doors for me to get in the Cup Series eventually.”
On to the national series
With his success in modifieds, Bodine graduated to what was then the NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) in 1979.
Bodine made three starts in 1979. He added six additional races between 1980 and 1982 for various owners. Seven races into the 1982 season, Cliff Stewart selected him to replace Joe Millikan.
Bodine stayed with Stewart until the end of the 1983 season. He won three pole awards and finished a season-best second-place for the car owner at the fall race at Dover International Speedway in 1983.
Helping a new team get its start
Rick Hendrick recruited Bodine to stabilize his fledgling All-Star Racing team in 1984 — the company’s first attempt at full-time competition. The season started out respectably for the new team with a young, ambitious car dealer trying to get a foothold.
Bodine, along with veteran crew chief Harry Hyde, scored three top-10 finishes to open the season. However, the next four races produced finishes outside the top-10 including a 35th-place showing at Darlington. With no sponsorship in sight; it appeared the team was going to be forced to cease operations.
“Rick was going to make us stay home from Martinsville,” said Bodine. “We didn’t have a sponsor and Rick and his wife Linda had already made plans to attend a church conference that weekend so he wouldn’t even be at the race anyway.”
Hyde persuaded Hendrick to attend the race.
“We had the car ready to go for Martinsville and Harry was the one who talked Rick into taking the car up there and racing that weekend,” Bodine said. “If it wasn’t for Harry convincing Rick to go ahead and enter the car and we won that race, who knows what would have become of Hendrick Motorsports.”
Bodine scored his first career Cup win for himself and Hendrick. With the pivotal win, the team was able to continue in 1984 scoring two more victories (Nashville and Riverside).
“I teased Jimmie (Johnson), Jeff (Gordon), Terry (Labonte) and some of the other drivers who went on to drive for Mr. Hendrick during a TV special asking them if they wanted to pay me a little something for helping get that team started,” Bodine said with a laugh. “I saw Jeff at the Daytona 500 earlier this year and asked him where my check was and he said he sent it and that I must have moved or something.”
The rivalry and correcting a story
Any driver who has competed in NASCAR modifieds understands it takes a hard-nosed, aggressive driver to be successful in those cars. Bodine paid his dues doing just that for years at tracks throughout New England and the eastern United States.
It came as no surprise that Bodine maintained that same aggressive-style when he graduated to the Cup series. Eventually he ran into drivers who shared that same style – Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and Dale Earnhardt.
While long-time fans remember the rivalry with Earnhardt— and how it was depicted on the movie Days of Thunder in 1990 — fans who simply watched the movie, didn’t see exactly the entire truth according to Bodine.
“Yes, Dale (Earnhardt) and I had a pretty good rivalry going on at one time and eventually it got us called down to Daytona Beach to meet with Bill (France) Jr.,” Bodine said. “The movie showed the two drivers driving separately to dinner after our meeting, but Dale and I actually rode together.”
Asked if anything was said in the car between the two rivals, Bodine added that Dale only asked him to do one thing.
“Bill Jr. threw me some car keys and said, ‘I want you two to follow us to dinner,’” Bodine said. “So Bill had Rick (Hendrick) and Richard (Childress) with him and Dale and I followed and I was driving. Dale reached over grabbed my shoulder and said, ‘Give him a shot’ (to bump into Bill Jr.) I thought, ‘no way.’ We just got chewed out pretty good by Bill Jr., and I wasn’t about to do that. Looking back on it, I wished I would have now.”
The best day of his life on track
Ask a driver what the best day of his life was on the race track and most will usually describe in great detail a specific win or accomplishment.
For Bodine, his best day was a race he didn’t even finish — the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Daytona International Speedway in 2000.
Bodine decided to participate in the historic event. He was running in the top 10 when he was collected in an accident forever remembered in highlight reels. Bodine’s truck was thrust into the catch fence. The sheet metal was shredded from the chassis as it continued down on the front stretch. Bodine continued to tumble down the track and was hit again before coming to a stop. All that remained was a mangled piece of metal from an accident no one thought he could have survived.
“I should be dead but the Lord protected me that day,” Bodine said. “There’s no way I should’ve survived that crash. I remember seeing my dad for a moment and he told me I wasn’t done with life yet.”
Bodine suffered a broken vertebra and other fractures in the accident and later recovered and returned to racing later that season at Richmond International Raceway.
“That accident changed my life forever and the fact that I survived made it the greatest day I ever had at a race track,” he added. “I enjoyed some big wins like the Daytona 500, but that day will always be the best day for me.”
Olympic dreams and success
After learning the American Olympic team in 1992 was struggling with imported bobsleds, Bodine decided to start a new venture. He became co-owner of Bo-Dyn Bobsleds.
The work and effort paid off. After a decade of perfecting his sleds. the U.S. team would medal in the 2002 Games. Eight years later, they went on to win gold at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Today, Bodine is still involved in the program — at a new level.
“We’re working on a sled that could be used in the Winter Paralympic Games someday,” he said. “There is a bobsled that can be used for a one-person or a two-person sled and we’re working on making the one-person sled capable of training the driver before you put a second person on the sled. They’re the ones that take the brunt of the force in an accident.”
While the American team has moved to a different type of sled, the Bo-Dyn sled is still being used throughout the world.
“The Chinese team has already purchased 10 sleds from us to practice and prepare for the Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea next year and four years later in China,” he added. “They’ve been giving them a pretty good workout while they learn how to compete in them.”
The next phase
Bodine continued racing until 2011. He made 37 additional starts in NASCAR’s top division before deciding to scale back.
“I’m still as busy as ever and I hate to use the term retire because I’m still around racing, I just don’t drive anymore in NASCAR,” Bodine added. “I look back on my career and I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish with a lot of great family and friends.”
Bodine finished his NASCAR career with over 200 wins in modifieds, 18 wins in Cup and six Xfinity Series wins.
“Now, I stay busier than ever helping out an ARCA team as a driving coach and also help keep up a Late Model stock car that my friend drives at New Smyrna Speedway on the weekend,” Bodine said. “That takes up a lot of time.”
Bo LaMastus owns the ARCA team that Bodine serves as mentor to his drivers. He also helps LaMastus sell his line of products, including Jukeboxes.
Life and faith today
While Bodine stays busy in racing, he and his wife Lori also participate often in various charity functions in and around their home in Florida. While working hard to help raise money and awareness for several charities, he also shares his message of faith and hope when speaking.
“Lori is a real estate agent and I like to chauffer her around showing homes to clients,” Bodine said. “We also are involved in several charities including Florida Yorkie Rescue, who helps find neglected Yorkie breeds of dogs a new home, the High Seas Rally, were patients faced with kidney dialysis and other health issues are given a free cruise to enjoy thanks to bikers who donate and participate in the rally.”
Although Bodine says he was once too shy to even raise his hand as a boy in school to ask to go to the bathroom, he never backs away from getting a chance to tell his story of faith and hope from his experiences.
“I speak to groups all the time and share my faith,” Bodine said. “I believe God puts us here in this earth for a reason and He allowed me to live for a reason that day in Daytona. I want to share the word with as many people as I can because I don’t believe things just happen.
“God has a plan for all of us and my burning desire is to share how accepting the Lord as your Savior can make a difference in your life. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier, but if definitely makes your life better.”
Thank you fans
Although Bodine doesn’t interact with fans as much as he used to, he’s grateful for their continued support.
“NASCAR fans are so dedicated and I always appreciated that about them and still do to this day,” he said. “How many sports have fans spend as much time at the track as NASCAR fans do. They save up money all year long to go to some events that last for days and you don’t see that in other stick and ball sport.
“NASCAR fans helped motivate me and it didn’t matter if I heard boos or cheers, I always appreciated them and they helped me a lot in my career.”
Bodine wants to make sure fans feel respected by him as he’s a fan too.
“We (racers) can never thank the fans enough as far as I’m concerned,” Bodine said. “Without them I could have never enjoyed the career I was blessed to enjoy.”
Race Starts: 225+ (Estimated 300 NASCAR Modified, 575 NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series, 94 NASCAR Xfinity Series, 22 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series)
Race Wins: 18 Cup Series, 6 Xfinity, Est. 100+ Modified
Key Accomplishments: 1982 NASCAR (then Winston Cup Series Rookie of the Year); 1986 winner of Daytona 500; 1987 IROC champion
Key Honors: Guinness Book of World Records holder for most NASCAR wins in a season (55) in 1978; 1998 named 1 of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers
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